As society becomes increasingly trauma-informed, the availability of treatments and supports for PTSD is increasing. While talk therapy can be beneficial for those living with PTSD and other trauma-related disorders, sometimes, alternative or adjunctive approaches are needed. One such option for childhood PTSD is animal and pet-assisted therapy.
What Is Animal Assisted Therapy?
Animal-assisted therapy, sometimes called pet-assisted therapy, involves the use of animals to help people cope with social, emotional, or mental health problems. Pets can be helpful for developing social skills or recovering from the loss of a loved one. They can also reduce anxiety levels and boost a person’s mood.
Animal-assisted therapy can be incorporated into professional treatment services, including services provided by human service professionals, such as counselors or therapists. For instance, animals may be incorporated into counseling sessions to help address emotional or psychological problems.
The Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy for PTSD
While animals can be used to assist with treating a variety of physical and mental health problems, there has been recent interest in animal-assisted therapy for treating PTSD, and studies suggest that it is effective for treating this condition. In fact, according to a research report published in the Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work Practice, animal-assisted therapy is highly beneficial for reducing PTSD symptoms, with one study finding an 82% reduction in symptoms with the use of dogs. Other research has found that just one week of interacting with a dog helps reduce anxiety and sleep disturbances.
Other studies reviewing the benefits of incorporating animals into trauma therapy, including studies with children, have shown that animal-assisted interventions are beneficial for reducing both PTSD symptoms and depression. Animal-assisted therapy is slightly more beneficial than therapy on its own, and just getting a service dog can reduce trauma-related symptoms.
The presence of an animal can be calming, which can reduce symptoms of PTSD, such as hypervigilance, intrusive memories, and outbursts of anger. For many individuals, especially children, simply interacting with an animal during therapy sessions can be beneficial. It is an especially useful option for those who may not have the verbal skills, attention span, or abstract reasoning ability to fully benefit from a 60-minute talk therapy session.
Animal-Assisted Therapy for Your Child
There are a variety of options for animal-assisted therapy. Many children utilizing this service for trauma or other mental health conditions work with dogs or horses. Children may benefit from riding or caring for horses, or they may simply visit with a trained therapy dog for 10-15 minutes during counseling sessions. Some therapists offer equine-assisted therapy at ranches or farms, whereas others bring dogs into their office spaces to assist with therapy.
If you’re seeking New Jersey animal-assisted therapy services for your child, Bridge to Balance is here to help. We have two certified therapy dogs, Bradley and Loki, on our staff, and we’re happy to provide animal-assisted services to children with trauma. We have office locations in Voorhees, Hamilton, and Piscataway. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.